Cheat or “treat” foods don’t have to ruin your diet or healthy eating lifestyle! These simple food swaps & hacks will allow you to enjoy all the flavor of your favorite snack foods with more nutritional benefits in each bite.
I’m not a fan of the labeling foods as cheat foods…or even “treat” foods. To me, all foods can fit in your diet on a daily basis. Ones that are on the ultra nutritious side of the spectrum and ones that offer a little less in the way of daily nutritional requirements. And no, I am not talking about IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) type of eating….that’s another post entirely. 😬 You shouldn’t be eating all “junk” foods all day just because they fit into a strict macro allotment given to you by a non-credentialed online coach or some one size fits all website calculator. Instead, a mix of nutrient DENSE foods and less nutrient dense, FUN foods are the perfect way to fill your diet each day.
I KNOW it’s so much easier said than done, but moderation and balance with your food choices is really the key to ultimate health AND enjoyment with food. And yes…enjoyment is totally part of eating. It kills me when people say “food is fuel” and fuel ONLY. Obviously food is necessary to provide energy to our bodies daily, but ask any nutrition professional or RD and the will most likely tell you the same thing as me…there IS an enjoyment component to food too. That is totally normal and NOTHING to feel guilty about. Food is FUN. Food is social. Food is ENJOYABLE.
But I am getting off track. Back to the whole concept of cheat/treat foods. Unfortunately, peoples’ diets have become so restrictive that everyday, NORMAL, perfectly healthy foods have started to be labeled as indulgent cheat foods.
Today, I want to dispel some of some of the myths around supposed cheat foods. As I said, ALL food fits and had a place in a healthy diet. Especially the foods I am featuring in this post.
There is NOTHING wrong with the following foods. They should NOT be considered “cheats” and actually provide a ton of health benefits as they are.
Guacamole/Salsa + Chips
Baked corn tortilla chips paired with fresh salsa and/or guacamole is a delicious, crave-worthy snack that you should feel GOOD about eating. Most tortilla chips have very few ingredients…you can literally find ones as simple as ground corn, oil, and sea salt. A good, whole grain carb source! Salsa is obviously very low-cal in itself and if you get a freshly made variety it is full of veggies and fiber! And of course, the guacamole…full of healthy fats, potassium, and again, made from very SIMPLE ingredients. My mom’s homemade recipe contains: avocados, cilantro, lime juice, hot sauce, red onion, and salt & pepper. That’s it!
Cheese + Crackers
There’s no better classic snack than cheese and crackers (especially paired with wine! 😉). Cheese often gets a bad rap in the dieting or healthy living community, but it does not deserved to be demonized. Not all cheese is created equal and there are a ton of varieties out there that are low in fat, high in protein, and are a great source of calcium & Vitamin D, too! Reach for hard cheeses like provolone, cheddar, and swiss or soft cheeses like goat cheese and fresh mozzarella. Any of those paired with whole-grain crackers make a perfectly balanced snack option that has complex carbs, protein, and fat. Not to mention, a great way to satisfy your salt cravings!
The definition of “trail mix” has been distorted over the years to where it now can encompass snack mixes that are basically chocolate and candy pieces mixed together. But if we’re talking about classic trail mix, it’s a great option that hits a ton of different cravings, nutrients, and taste notes. A simple mix of nuts or seeds, dried fruits, whole grain cereal or pretzel pieces, and maybe a little dark chocolate? Sounds like the perfect snack to me! Plus, it’s filling, nutrient dense, and easy to take on the go.
It’s seems that nowadays, if you potato isn’t sweet than it’s a forbidden/cheat food. But people are quick to forget that classic WHITE potatoes pack a pretty hefty nutritional punch as well! Did you know white potatoes have more potassium than bananas? They are also one of the most FILLING foods on earth so they keep you satisfied for longer for less calories. Whether you’re eating sweet or white potatoes, the “health” component of them all comes down to preparation. Sure, if you’re eating potato chips or deep fried french fries every time you eat potatoes then it’s not going to be the greatest for you. But potatoes on their own are nutrient rich, WHOLE foods that are delicious too!
Hummus and Pita
Whole wheat or whole grain pita (rather than pita chips!) paired with chickpea-based hummus is another great snack option akin to cheese and crackers. You have a great mix of complex carbs, healthy fats (from the tahini or oil in the hummus), and lots of plant-based protein as well. Add some veggies to that snack plate and you’ll be getting some needed micronutrients too!
Not only is chocolate delicious, but it also has a ton of antioxidants packed inside every bite! If you opt for dark chocolate to satisfy your chocolate, you’ll be nourishing your body with antioxidants (polyphenols and flavanols), magnesium, iron, copper, and manganese due to the higher cocoa content. Also, since dark chocolate is more bold and rich tasting than milk chocolate, you only need a few bites or pieces to crush your craving. It’s lower in sugar and milk-fat as well!
I never understood how people consider sushi a cheat food. Maybe it’s because I am a sushi purist, but to me sushi is a perfectly healthy, well-balanced meal or snack option. You’ve got carbs from the rice, protein from the raw or cooked fish, and some veggies in the rolls or appetizers (like edamame or miso soup). Most sushi restaurants use white rice, but it isn’t the highly processed white rice that we hear about as being very devoid of nutrients. It’s sushi grade, high quality rice…and it’s not going to kill you if you eat 1/2 cup or so in your sushi meal. If you’re a sushi connoisseur like me, then chances are you enjoy sashimi better than rolls anyways. In which case you don’t have to worry about the rice at all. I don’t consider all the fancy rolls with tempura, creamy sauces, and fried toppings, to be real sushi anyways. If you say you like sushi but only eat cooked or super complicated rolls, I don’t really consider you to be a true sushi fan. ANYTHING can taste good when you throw a bunch of fried stuff and mayo on it. 😜
Nuts are packed with fiber, protein and healthy fats. They are easy to eat, convenient to take on the go, and require not refrigeration. Yet, a lot of people still avoid them because of their higher calorie count. This isn’t a great approach however because limiting nuts in your diet makes you miss out on all the important nutrients they provide. The biggest thing to know when eating nuts it what a serving size looks like. It’s easy to demolish a whole bag or container at once because most people aren’t aware of what a serving of nuts is. The next time you go for a nut filled snack, measure or weigh out a portion so you can get a sense for how many nuts make up one or two servings. Eating high calorie foods, like nuts, doesn’t have to be all or nothing…knowing what an appropriate serving is can make the difference between labeling a food as off-limits or incorporating it moderately into your everyday diet.
Cereal and milk. A morning staple of households everywhere and a quintessential comfort food for many people as they grow older. I for one LOVE cereal. Something about the crunchiness paired with the cold creamy milk is just so delicious. Cereal and milk doesn’t have to be an off-limits or once in a while food. It can still be just as nutritious for a meal or snack now that you’ve most likely aged out of the phase of cereals with cartoon characters on the boxes. 😜 If you look for cereals made with only whole grains, with minimal added sugar, and pair them an unsweetened nut milk, you’ll have a delicious snack that takes you back to childhood! Add in some nuts, fruit, and protein powder for a more well-balanced meal.
Like potatoes (see above) pasta itself is not inherently EVIL or bad for us. In fact, it’s pretty simple. And with all the different varieties out on the market nowadays it’s pretty easy to find a healthy version with wholesome ingredients. Whole wheat. Brown rice. Red lentil. Black bean. Chickpea. The PASTAbilities are endless. Using pasta as a base for a balanced meal is a great way to meet all your nutritional needs. Pasta is a great CHEAP source of complex carbs. So, when paired with lean proteins (like ground chicken, turkey, shrimp, tofu, or beans) and fresh vegetables, you get a delicious meal that will keep you fueled, full, and happy for hours.
Do you consider certain foods as cheat/treat foods?
What’s your favorite FUN food?
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